Promise Not To Tell

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Promise Not To Tell is the second book in Jayne Ann Krentz’s latest trilogy about Cutler. Sutter & Salinas. Since I finished reading the first book, When All the Girls Have Gone, I had been eagerly anticipating the next, so I was very excited to find this book on the library shelf.

The main plot is about a Seattle gallery owner Virginia Troy and Cabot Sutter, whose detective firm she hires to investigate the circumstances that led one of her artists (Hannah Brewster) to take her own life, but not before sending Virginia a last picture.

Virginia wasn’t a loner but someone accustomed to being alone; yet she has spent years battling demons that stem from her childhood time in a cult and the night a fire burned through the compound. Cabot is one of three boys Sheriff Anson Salinas saved from the fire. The children’s mothers had  been killed that night.

Virginia suspects Quinton Zane (leader of the cult) is still alive and perhaps Hannah has been murdered. Hannah was Virginia’s mother’s closest friend in the cult. Her paintings were scenes from the night Zane torched the compound.

Abigail Watkins was the contact between Hannah and Virginia. Abigail was also the mother of fraternal twins Tucker Fleming and Kate Delbridge, children of Zane. There are many other characters involved in the subplots, all of which add to the excitement of the terrifying and electrifying novel.

One of the reasons I like Krentz is that the pace is fast, and the story is full of twists and turns. There is plenty of action and the main plot and subplots are complex, intriguing and engaging and keeps me enthralled to the end. I can’t wait for the next installment!

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The Ghost Bride

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This book attracted my attention because it is written by a Malaysian Chinese, and I expect there to be Chinese folklore and beliefs of death, the afterlife and spirits.

The story: Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound. Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son (Tian Ching), who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practised, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, at a terrible price…

Part I of the novel is set in Malaya in 1893. The beginning section is the most interesting, with an intriguing romantic plot between Li Lan and a cousin of Tian Ching, Lim Tian Bai. The fascinating world of amahs, the ten Courts of Hell (including the Arrival Gate, Rebirth, Wheel of Life, Paradise, Gold or Silver Bridges, Judges and Punishments such as being boiled in oil, sawed in half by horse and ox-headed demons, forced to climb mountains of knives, pounded into powder by enormous mallets, tongues ripped out, frozen in ice and consigned to the lake of blood).

From the time Li Lan is visited by ghosts and visits a medium, and the rest of Part II about the Afterworld, the novel becomes less interesting and intriguing. Like Li Lan’s two worlds that overlap, the story has veered in a different direction and loses its lustre as the pacing has slowed down. Some parts of the plot, like her dreams, becomes confusing.

I think this book would appeal more to those who are fascinated, but do not yet have a deep understanding, of the Chinese culture in the late-19th and early-20th century Malaya. I was slightly disappointed: the idea behind the plot is great and the beginning of the story is promising but it becomes tedious and irritating. If this book is any clue to the writing style of Choo, I would not be keen to read her other novel, albeit with an interesting title, The Night Tiger.

Skyscraper

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When I first saw the trailer for Skyscraper on TV, I thought that I would not pay to watch this movie because somehow I’d always associated Dwayne Johnson with a weak plot. Then I caught more than a glimpse of Singaporean actor Chin Han,whom I first became aware of in the 1994 TCS (Television Corporation of Singapore) serial Masters of the Sea. I’ve also seen him in Independence Day (2016), Restless (2011), Contagion (2011) and 2012 (2009). I was wondering how many scenes he would have this time, and how important his role is.

Yesterday, I read the review by my favourite Straits Times film correspondent; and decided I would pay to watch Chin Han, who is now a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the body that overseas the Academy Awards). Definitely not for the story or even Johnson.

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Chin Han is Zhao Longji, the urban software magnate and builder of The Pearl, the world’s tallest building, and appears about five minutes into the film. Johnson (one of this movie’s producers) is Will Sawyer, Zhao’s safety and security consultant who lives with his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twin children (Georgia played by McKenna Roberts and Henry, played by Noah Cottrell) on the 96th level of the tower, the only occupants of the residential units there.

Sarah and the children are trapped in the towering inferno when they returned unexpectedly from an outing during a sabotage. Will has to find a way to rescue them. Zhao refused to evacuate. Of course all of them would eventually emerge unscathed. (So ridiculous and flimsy is the plot.)

The best thing about this movie is Chin Han. (And he has a rather meaty role here, in almost every scene from the first to the last.)  Chin Han’s performance is better than expected; his acting chops can hold against Johnson’s (or any other actor’s in this movie). The fight sequences (including with the Rock himself) are impressive, though I know they must have been choreographed, and he may even have had a stunt double. His one line of dialogue in Mandarin here is a bonus.  He has proven himself in a number of Hollywood outings, and someone should by now recognise his potential and give him the opportunity of playing the Male Lead.

An added bonus here is Hannah Quinlivan (wife of Taiwanese singer-songwriter Jay Chou), who plays an assassin called Xia. She has more speaking parts than Chou in his last few Hollywood movies. And she does not disappoint. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of her on the big screen. (Besides English, she also has a line in Cantonese here.)

As one character in the movie remarked: Every man has a weakness. (Zhao’s weakness is The Pearl and Will’s his family.) So does this movie. But “with proper motivation, everything can be done“. There is hope yet that Johnson will deviate from such silly plots as Skyscraper.

Russian Extravaganza

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The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) performed a free lunchtime concert of music from Russian composers Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Igor Stravinsky.

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It was conducted by Joshua Tan and featured violinist Loh Jun Hong.

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This concert, sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings, was widely publicised, and I expected the response to be overwhelming. As the complimentary tickets would be issued one hour before the concert, I timed to be one of the earliest to arrive. Yet, the queue snaking the entire foyer of the Victoria Concert Hall spilled over onto the road outside when I arrived ten minutes after tickets were issued. (I got ticket no 176.) I wonder how many of those who arrived just before the concert commenced were turned away.

Excerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition  (Mussorgsky)

The short pieces in this (piano) suite are linked by a series of Promenades which need no introduction. I especially liked the alto saxaphone in The Old Castle and the percussion in Tuileries. The orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel has turned the piano suite into a  concert-hall showpiece. The pizzicato passages are especially glorious.

Nocturne from String Quartet no 2 (Borodin)

This is one of the best loved tunes, particularly the theme sung by the cello. When the violins came in, I imagined I was floating among the clouds; then I was dancing with the fairies and was unwilling to come down after the finale.

Finale: Allegro Vivacissimo from Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 35 (Tchaikovsky)

This is the moment I’d been waiting for: Loh Jun Hong, whom I’ve not seen in a live performance since he graduated from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) several years ago. (He has since graduated with a master’s from The Julliard School, performed all over the world and is a part-time lecturer at YSTCM.) He plays on a $300,000 (at least) rare 1726 Mezzadri on generous loan from the Rin Collection for this concert.

In this lively movement, both the harmony and melody are equally predominant, and so are the highly challenging technical passages. I believe I read somewhere that this piece was considered ‘unplayable’ even by some professional violinists; so imagine how impressed I was by Loh’s performance. I was awe-struck the moment he put his bow to violin and played the first note. His technical prowess and mastery of the violin aside, Loh’s passion and commitment to both the music and performance was evident and clear. He was Singapore’s best bet in the finals of the inaugural Singapore International Violin Competition in 2015, but, shockingly (as he has finished top in international competitions before) his journey ended after the semi-finals.

Flight of the Bumble-Bee (Rimsky-Korsakov)

This is one of the most famous classical pieces ever written. I used to play this on the piano. And I still love this piece, but by this time at the concert, I was experiencing serious gastric pains (as I had only had a small bun since I woke up at 5.30am, and it was now almost 1.30pm), so I did not enjoy it as much as I would have.

Suite No 2 for Small Orchestra (Stravinsky)

Stravinsky originally wrote this as four piano pieces for his children to duet at the piano but later arranged it for an small orchestra. By this time, even Joshua Tan was perspiring profusely (as could be seen from the wet shirt clinging to his back as he conducted). The character of the piece is amusingly off-kilter and quirky. The raucous and lively rhythms bring it to a captivating conclusion. Tan’s enthusiasm and energy came through in spades but the musicians played with a serious demeanor on their faces. Perhaps they were feeling like me – loved the music but feeling terribly hungry!

 

 

 

Sad Girls

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I first got to know of Lang Leav in a poetry workshop. I read her Love and Misadventure collection; it is easy reading. I wasn’t all that impressed because I thought I could write like that too. So I didn’t bother to read another one. Then I came across this book, Sad Girls, that is the first novel she has written for adults. Curious, I borrowed and read it. And end up disappointed.

The book has two parts, each beginning with a quote. Part One, ‘The Girl Who Cried Wolf’, began with a quote from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, a dystopian novel: “But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them.” Part Two, “Whirlpools”, came at Pg 267 (the book has 362 pages), with a Sara Teasdale poem, Sea Sand.

The story of how Aubrey’s panic attacks start because she told a lie and now her classmate Ana is dead, how Aubrey meets an enigmatic boy called Rad is more suitable for young adults. It’s a coming-of-age story, and shows how some teenagers cope with issues such as anxiety, drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, dark secrets and death. I didn’t like the way it is paced. I just could not relate, Maybe it’s because I’m from a different generation. Still, I think this book should be in the Young People’s Collection.

Southpaw

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I had deliberately given this 2015 movie a miss because I guessed I would have ended up averting my eyes from the big screen most of the time. However, I couldn’t resist borrowing it when I spotted it in the library. The main draw was Jake Gyllenhaal; next was Forest Whitaker.

The story: Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), the reigning Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion, seemingly has an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter Leila (Oona Jackson) and a lavish lifestyle. Billy’s style of fighting often leaves him beaten and bruised (and my eyes shut or hidden behind my hand). In the match defending his title, his injury is so severe that he coughs up blood for days; and is finally convinced by Maureen to retire. He is taunted by his opponent Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez); a brawl between the two led to Maureen being shot and killed. Billy crumples. He begins abusing alcohol and drugs while trying to seek vengeance. He has lost everything – his lucrative income, his job, his fame and his family. He is sued, lost his belongings, his house is repossessed, he attempts suicide and loses custody of Leila.

Leila is put under the care of child protective services officer Angela Rivera (Naomi Harris). Billy sobers up but Leila refuses to even see him, blaming him for their predicament. Billy gets a job as a cleaner at a gym owned by former boxer Tick Wills (Whitaker), and convinces Tick to train him. Tick and Billy are two damaged souls who need each other. They strike up a relationship that is a friendship. Billy’s former manager (Curtis “50Cent” Johnson) arranges a fight between Billy and Miguel. The judge removes Billy’s restricted visitation with Leila, who convinces him to let her attend the fight by staying in the locker room with Angela. Billy wins the fight and reunites with Leila. Love wins in the end.

This is a universal story about redemption, overcoming personal demons and putting others before self. “Everyone’s got a beat in him; everyone’s got a fighter inside him; everyone has something that he can fight for; there’s no reason to give up. There is every reason that when you believe in something you believe in your life to keep fighting. You can control your destiny.”

Other than the actual fights that are so violent and bloody (like blood dripping from the eyes swollen shut, among other horrible injuries caused by opponent’s hits and punches), I found myself enjoying this movie. It is an inspiring and heart-warming story about hope and redemption; there is a lot of intense, touching and emotional scenes; and the acting is brilliant. I’m especially impressed with Oona Jackson; it’s the first time I’ve seen her, and I hope to see more of her. My hats off to Gyllenhaal, who despite having the stunt double and stand-in at his disposal, must have gone through arduous preparation and training as all his fight scenes look absolutely authentic. The make-up artists, especially Gyllenhaal’s, have done a fantastic job. And I’ve never found rap music more appealing and used appropriately at the same time.

It’s Always a Good Time for Jazz

Arriving at the Esplanade Concert Hall less than ten minutes before the doors closed, I was ushered to the Gallery Seats for the monthly family-friendly Beautiful Sunday concert.

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Yesterday afternnon’s concert featured Orchestra Collective which was formed in 2012 to draw musicians and audience to enjoy the magic of music together. The two conductors for the afternoon were Tay Yun Song and Gena Ng and their performance consisted of familiar tunes from popular films and standards by composers from various musical genres.

The first medley was from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, an opera that was performed on Broadway. My favourite song from this selection is Summertime, an aria famously recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, the Queen of Jazz. The musician who stood out among the musicians was a trombonist whose playing felt to me more penetrating than the others’.

La La Land is a musical romantic comedy about a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who meet and fall in love while pursuing their dreams. The song I like best from the movie is City of Stars and it is also included in this performance.

One big draw of this concert is Russian composer Shostakovich’s Waltz No 2. For me, it was the best piece performed; not least because Gena Ng took over the baton at this point. This piece was used on the soundtrack to the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a married couple.

The medley of James Bond iconic tunes (like Goldfinger, Nobody Does It Better and Live and Let Die, besides the Theme) were played with a splash of jazz. Conductor Gena Ng again showed her competency and brought out the best in the musicians. One plus point about being in the Gallery Seats is that every little gesture or direction given by the conductor, be it with the hands, fingers, body or facial expression can be seen up close.

Tay Yun Song returned to the podium for the final piece, consisting of a medley of tunes from New York City and Cuban jazz. I didn’t recognise any of the tunes here, and the girl in front of me was looking at her handphone the whole time (I wondered what she was looking at as there was no reception in the hall.)

Despite there being not very enthusiastic applause at the end (and no shouts for an encore), Tay returned to play one (obviously prepared, as he didn’t even have to give any instruction to the musicians before the orchestra launched into the opening strains of Gershwin’s An American In Paris). I immediately perked up (but not the girl in front of me). There being no announcement of the pieces being played in this medley, I recognised only Swanee, I Got Rhythm and Fascinating Rhythm, besides the ubiquitous Rhapsody In Blue. There might have been others, but they were segued into another tune before I could identify the title; perhaps some of these were ‘S Wonderful, Embraceable You and Man I Love. This segment was the longest and best medley played at this concert, though I wished Rhapsody In Blue was performed in its entirety.